Rebel Yell on her new single ‘Night Drive’ & her next LP
Since releasing 2018’s industrial, acid-tinged Hired Muscle, Sydney-via-Brisbane’s Grace Stevenson AKA REBEL YELL has showed no sign of slowing down. This year alone, she’s played a string of huge shows including Dark MOFO and Splendour In The Grass 2019, a support slot for Orbital and released an EP under the name Soft Touch… Phew!
Having shared her new single ‘Night Drive’ and its accompanying Retrosweat-inspired video clip, I sat down with Grace to go in-depth on everything she’s been up to, and what we can expect in the second half of 2019 and beyond.
To lay some context for the rest of the interview, I wanted to talk about the massive couple months you’ve just had… First of all you were in Europe for about three weeks, and you played some quite special-looking shows there. How was your time there?
It was brief, but also funny because it was half-holiday and half-tour. I was originally going to just visit my brother who lives in London, and my friends in Iceland and Berlin, and I was like “I may as well try and do some shows”. It was definitely a very different experience in terms of live shows, especially the last three, in Iceland, London and Bristol. They were received really well.
Were you headlining, or part of a larger bill of people?
It was a bit of a mix. In London, my brother put on the show, and we got a few other really great people to play. The Bristol one was organised by Harry [Wright], one half of Giant Swan.
I hear they’re the nicest people ever. Actual angels.
Yeah! So, Harry put on that Illegal Data show, and the line-up just kept getting bigger and bigger, and I was able to get a good spot… It was great.
Playing in Iceland, how did that come about?
I have been to Iceland quite a few times, basically every two years since I was 18. I’ve made really good friends there. I think the last time I was there, my brother and my partner at the time all met up with these guys who run this label called FALK – Fuck Art Let’s Kill.
Love that for you!
Yep haha, so we met up with them, and we’ve stayed in contact. So, I sent them an email saying “Hey, I’m coming, any chance you could help with a show?” Then all the people they wanted to support me were playing this tiny festival up in this town with a population of 16 people, so they asked me if I wanted them to get me on that bill and I was like, yeah, of course I do!
I remember your Instagram stories and you were in this tiny ass room in rural Iceland…it looked sick.
It was in a high school! Just this town with a little campground, this weird DIY punk thing.
Iceland, literally! And then you got back from Europe and went straight to playing Splendour in the Grass. So, you went from playing this Icelandic high school to playing North Byron Parklands. How was that?
Well, DJing isn’t my focus so it was pretty stressful! I was back in Sydney for two nights, flew to Queensland, then drove down with my injured father. He couldn’t walk well so I had to leave him in the amphitheatre to watch Wolfmother. He just wanted to watch Wolfmother!
Ooh we got a big fan in the house! Now, before we get on to talking about your most recent release, ‘Night Drive,’ I wanted to touch on another quite recent release of yours, a collaboration with Exhibitionist [aka Kirsty Tickle], called ‘With You.’ How did that come about?
We met on tour with These New South Whales, because Party Dozen and REBEL YELL were the supports for that tour. Jonathan Boulet [of Party Dozen, ARSE, and others] used to play in bands my brother toured with, and Kirsty’s from Brisbane originally, so we have a lot of crossover. We got along so well on tour and then I moved to Sydney right after that happened. And then we were going to the beach all over summer, hanging out and we thought “Well, maybe we should write a song!” I feel like no one really cares what scene you’re in here. There’s so much more interaction between genres.
I feel like particularly in the dance music community, if you could even call it that, there’s so many people who do such a diversity of other things.
Even rock-dogs come to my shows! It’s really nice. There’s this thing in Brisbane where there’s this strong divide between electronic music and DIY and rock. It’s really gross! So yeah, we just went to her studio one day and then came back and finished it a few months later. It’s about dudes being shitty.
Quelle surprise huh. There’s this particular brand of boy around these days… They’re not even soft boys they’re just…
It’s guys who think that if you sleep with them you’re going to fall in love with them! Why aren’t we allowed to do what we want to? It’s bullshit, just all the assumptions! And then you can’t do anything to change it. You can’t be like “No, I don’t want to be your partner, it’s just fun hanging out and seeing each other when we do. When we sleep together it doesn’t mean we have to be together.” Because people don’t believe you when you say that.
They also have this quite dangerous ability to gaslight you, and turn it back on you like “You’re crazy!” That kind of thinking is so pathological…and you can’t have healthy relationships if you read too much into their behaviour. You have to be communicative, like “is this what you mean by that? Can we talk about it?”
Totally! There’s no maturity at all.
It’s really scary! And if you do want a partner…that’s not how you get one! Like…you need to calm down, son.
Most of them are in their early thirties. They have this high school thing they’ve never grown out of. So many men are brought up to be really angry! To not be sad or anything.
It’s really dangerous.
In terms of the new single ‘Night Drive,’ from a conceptual point of view, it’s really rich material. This idea about women feeling strong and safe in their bodies, and the fundamental importance of just being able to get home safe at night. Talking about this basic physical right, it’s obviously really important, and timely – recent statistics point out that 1 in 6 women has experienced physical or sexual violence by their current or former partner. Was there a particular flashpoint that made you want to write this track, or have you wanted to write this for a while?
I wrote it quite quickly, going into the studio and just sort of started writing the lyrics and it came through my head. Personally, I will never walk alone at night. Even if it’s just getting 400m from the train station to my house, I always call someone and usually try and avoid it at any cost. I think right at when I was thinking of these lyrics, coincidentally another attack had just happened.
I think it’s such a simple thing, to just want to get home safely. And I guess I was sort of sick of doing songs that were a “fuck you” to dudes…I wanted to make an anthem to be strong. I wanted to do something around asking my friends like “please don’t walk home alone.” And them replying “we should be able to!” and me thinking it’s not worth risking. So it sort of just came about sub-consciously.
It’s been there for a while, waiting to be expressed. That makes a lot of sense. Any femme who’s living in this world, it’s always at the back of your mind.
Some choose to just say “Nah, I’m not going to let it be an issue.” But I can’t!
I guess the thing is we need to accommodate the full range. If people want to walk home alone at night, they should be safe. If people don’t want to walk home alone at night, they should be safe. Everyone should be safe!
A lot of the time I’ve felt patronised for saying I wouldn’t walk home. I used to make my ex meet me at the bus-stop. I know it’s only 100m but…
See this is the thing, right? That just sounds to me like an access requirement. People have ways of being in the world and we need to respect that. If someone wants to be met at the bus stop, fuck, I’ll meet them there. If your friends or partners or you care about them, that’s nothing! That’s not a big deal.
I think that’s something people need to learn. Some people don’t understand that if someone was coming to attack me, I wouldn’t really have much to do to defend myself. That’s where the film clip comes in. I value exercise for keeping fit and taking charge of my body, so that works really well.
It’s all about that, taking charge of your body, keeping fit. And that we should be able to wear whatever we want.
Rebel Yell merch.
Exactly, buy my merch!
This patronising angle isn’t really spoken of a lot. I think in a lot of contemporary feminist discourse you get stuck on the empowerment hook. You get stuck saying “I have to be powerful! I have to be a strong woman, a no-nonsense, take-it-all, dish-it-out woman.” Surely something that’s more empowering is, rather than meet society where it is currently, demand that it meets you and your requirements as a woman, as a person.
So, if you want people to meet you at the bus stop, people should meet you at the fucking bus stop! Period!
It’s all well and good to say “Well I’m not going to let it happen to me” but just because you’re saying it’s not going to happen doesn’t mean it’s not going to.
Denialism is more dangerous than being anxious about something, I find.
I’d rather be anxious and have my life! Even though it sucks that I have to do that.
I think though, speaking from the experience of a queer/non-binary person, you have to at some point accept things. And I don’t mean that in a really depressing “Oh, I’m always going to be oppressed” way.
The world is just kinda fucked sometimes!
If you don’t accept how things are, you can’t change them. If you can’t come to grips with the situation in which you’re living, you can’t figure out how to thrive in it.
And I’d much rather live in reality than in a little bubble. It gives you more to stand up for, to fight for.
Absolutely, because you know what’s at stake. You’re in it, you’re present. And then there’s this thing where people say “Why are we still talking about this? I can’t believe we’re still talking about this!” It’s like, I really appreciate how frustrating it is, but I think once you take into account historically how long it’s taken for things to happen – not that things should take a while to happen – you just need to keep talking about stuff! Having to continue work on complex issues is an invitation to ask “Why isn’t this working? Surely we’re not doing this right, because if we were we wouldn’t be talking about this? Systemically?”
Well I studied design futures, so it’s a lot about the process and not about “let’s just fix this!” I think a lot of it has to do with society being like “how can we fix this?” And it’s not about that, it’s about the whole system. Everything has another consequence.
Eat the rich. Well, we just touched on the fantastic video clip for ‘Night Drive’ which you co-directed, in which you run this kind of industrial aerobics class, and I find it both visually really satisfying and also quite tense. You pair an essential and confronting subject matter with quite a playful, retro visual, which is a bold decision, I think. How did the video come about?
Well I’ve been going to Retrosweat classes since I moved to Sydney. It’s my favourite thing, honestly! I’ve always wanted to do something like that. Even with my first band 100%, me and Chloe were always obsessed with the idea of 80’s aerobics.
It’s such a strong look. A terrifying look.
The original idea was to have Sydney musicians as cameos, doing aerobics, because I love the idea of subverting the idea of what a musician is. The stereotype is still drugs, alcohol, unfit…
Sex, drugs, rock’n’roll! I loved the idea of showing these Sydney musicians being really fit.
Start a fitness cult, for real.
I want to! I’m so close to doing that. Something I really value is fitness, and I just thought it would be cool to have people do things that aren’t usually associated with the music scene.
When I first watched it, I did notice that the “talent” are quite integral parts of the Sydney music community. You’ve got Amelia Jenner of FBi Radio/NECTAR/Body Promise, Antonia Gauci who’s an incredible musician and engineer, and Marcus Whale of both solo and Collarbones fame. Did you just pick people out or was it more who was available?
I picked people out. There were originally a lot more people who were going to do it who are in bands and things, and then my friend Naomi was in it, and Lane who does Femme Power. It was going to be general Sydney music people that people would recognise, and as it filtered down I was actually extremely happy with the outcome. It turned out to be all femme, queer friends, people I felt very comfortable with. I wouldn’t have felt super comfortable doing that with a bunch of other people you know? The leotard was literally riding up my vagina!
Like…I’m sorry, but you’re all my friends!
I remember watching and thinking “That is bold. That is activism in action baby, that’s feminism!” So, I can totally imagine wanting that security. Is ‘Night Drive’ part of a new suite of material, and can we expect some more soon?
Yeah, I’m hoping to put a proper record out in 2020, ten to twelve tracks. There should be another single this year. I have a strong mindset about it – music isn’t really a career to me. If I’m going to get paid well to do it, I’ll do it properly. I don’t think it’s going to be my lifelong career, that I’m going to be famous. I think a lot of people I know from other DIY scenes think I want to be really big – no! I’m just having fun. While I’m young why not travel around the country, or overseas, and if I get paid well and do a show that has a sponsor like… Oh sorry!
The judgement from some DIY people really frustrates me, that a lot of them are privileged enough to hold that over you.
And they’re usually straight white men!
To people who aren’t from money, money doesn’t have the same kind of prestige attached to it as it does for rich people. It’s a different perspective. If you come from money, you’ve never had to worry about money, money to you isn’t a thing in the same way. When we get money it’s like “Oh fuck, I’ve got money!” It’s present.
Yeah, like this show in a few weeks is going to pay my rego.
Literally! Pay the goddamn bills! I notice that the production, particularly around your vocals, are moving in this different direction. I hesitate to use the word “clean” because that establishes a false dichotomy, but your vocals are more front in the mix. ‘Hired Muscle’ was such a scuzzy, delicious record in how it focused on the crunchy lower end. Are you going in a “cleaner” direction?
Yeah, and I’ve switched the instrumentation up a bit. The songs have more dynamics too. I’m always trying to improve it, getting more confident with vocals and having them cleaner. I was always trying to hide my vocals.
There’s a propensity in music that perhaps stems from a punk tradition, in a broad sense, that your vocals get swallowed up. Sometimes it works really well, and sometimes it’s like “I’d actually love to hear what you’re saying. I sound like such a parent haha like “What did she say?”
I’m shy! And I’m not sure if I’m good at singing, not sure of my voice.
Is anyone? Mariah Carey…
And it’s way more acceptable for men to sing out of key in that punky way, but when a woman does it…
It’s not pretty anymore.
Exactly. I remember playing this show in Brisbane, in a place called Trainspotters. It was under a train station. I was setting up, playing first. There was this whole long table of middle-aged people, watching me set up. They were maybe thinking “Oh, here’s this young girl, about to play something nice for us.” So I started playing, and my friend has this video of this man fully giving me two thumbs down, and then they all left!
That is such a good co-sign from the honourable people of Brisbane.
I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
So more Rebel Yell coming, trickling singles out… Any more music videos in the pipeline?
Can we expect a multi-part Rebel Yell exercise DVD?
Honestly… I’m going to do a film clip for this new song that will have footage from Iceland, travel diary-ish, as the song is more euphoric. I’m also writing this material that doesn’t have any lyrics. Maybe for a side thing, maybe a split with my brother on FALK, that Icelandic label.
I played a bunch in Melbourne the other night, so half the set was with vocals and half wasn’t. I couldn’t really tell if it was good or not though because I’ve gotten shy again! I can’t look up when I’m playing anymore. That’s why I used to wear my cap, I was too scared to look up. When I released Hired Muscle I got really confident, looking at everyone.
The lyrical content would drive you, right? You can’t really muffle “Get the fuck off my stage” to the ground.
That’s the only song I can look up for now! So yeah, now there’s this weird mix. I think because I saw Orbital and Underworld in the last year, I was like “Fuck! They’re doing really cool stuff and still have this fanbase, it’s techno, they don’t have to go poppy… I could do that! I can do whatever I want!” Now I’m not sure if anyone likes it haha.
Well, good to experiment. All you can do is follow what interests you and see how it goes.
REBEL YELL ‘NIGHT DRIVE’ SINGLE LAUNCH
With Lucy Cliché, Marcus Whale & Eternal Dust
Thursday, August 15
Photos by Matthew Clarke
Words by MICHAEL STRATFORD HUTCH
REBEL YELL GETS HER RETROSWEAT ON IN HER ‘NIGHT DRIVE’ CLIP
REBEL YELL ON MOVING CITIES, SHARING EXPERIENCES & HER 13 YEAR OLD PLAYLIST
REBEL YELL & EXHIBITIONIST PERFORM POWERFUL, PUNCHY TECHNO-POP ON ‘WITH YOU’
REBEL YELL’S ‘REWORKS’ EP IS A LESSON IN SELF-REFLECTION